Sunday, July 27, 2008

07/27/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

If you have been here for a while, you have noticed that there is an internal debate about whether the right kind of people can actually say they are working to become the right kind of people, much less claim to be the right kind of people, as though saying we are is proof that we are not. So that, one thing the right kind of people don’t do is presume to be the right kind of people, and by not claiming to be, we actually are. If we are going to be the right kind of people and place, we can’t talk about it.

On the other hand, we could talk about it with the full and clear understanding that the right kind of people can easily become the wrong kind of people by being smug about, and proud of, being the right kind of people. We all have had enough of those situations in which all the right kind of people went to First Church and then went to the Country Club for lunch and a swim or a round of golf. And, you became the right kind of person by having the right kind of friends, and belonging to the right kind of clubs, and having the right kind of bank account, with the right kind of people saying the right kind of things about you. It’s wrong to be right in that kind of way.

It’s also wrong to be the kind of people who react so strongly against being the right kind of people in this way that they become the right kind of people in the opposite way—never going to First Church, for instance, or to a country club, or any club the wrong kind of right kind of people would go to, etc. Being careful not to be like the man in the temple who was proud that he wasn’t like the other man in the temple (cf. Luke 18:5-15). It’s easy to be the right kind of person in the wrong kind of way.

But, it’s important to be the right kind of person in the right kind of way. Spiritual practice is practice designed to have us become the right kind of people in the right kind of way. We practice being the right kind of person in the company of those who are practicing being the right kind of person. The only true spiritual practice is that of being the right kind of person. All the other practices, the praying, the walking the labyrinth, the sweat lodges, the chanting and the meditation, all lead to the clarity and peace, compassion and grace, that are essential for being the right kind of person. There is nothing beyond being the right kind of person to have, or get, or aspire to, or be.

The right kind of person receives well what comes her, what comes his, way. The right kind of person is a gracious host, hostess. The right kind of person has a gentle way of remaining who they are through the vicissitudes of time and the ebbs and flows of life. They have learned Paul’s secret of being content “in all things.” They have a calming influence, a grounding, balancing effect, and welcome everything, “Come in, come in. So glad to see you! Pull up a chair. Tell me your story.”

The right kind of person is home to the right kind of perspective. Right seeing, right hearing, right understanding, right thinking, right doing, right being. That is the goal and focus, outcome, purpose, and result of spiritual practice. It is who we are and what we are about. Being and becoming the right kind of person—the kind of person we ought to be, the kind of person the situation needs us to be.

We become who we ought to be by imagining who we ought to be, creating a mental model of who we ought to be, and emulating the model in our lives. It’s the “law of attraction,” or the “power of affirmation,” being worked out in our lives. Not that we attract what we want, but we become what attracts us, by incorporating the attractive qualities in our way with life. We become who we say we are. We align ourselves with what we say is important.

We become a writer, for instance, by acting like a writer, by writing. This isn’t to say that what we write will be worth reading, or that we will become a best selling author, or that we will make our living writing. It’s just to say that we become a writer by writing. We don’t become a writer by talking about writing, even by talking about writing with those who write, or by intending to write something, some day.

We live the dream. We dream the dream and live the dream by acting as though the dream were our reality. We make it real, or approximately real, by living as though it is. Who we are is, in part, a function of who we wish we were, of who we want to be. The image molds the person to fit the image.

We become children of God, or children of Satan, by practicing our part. Christ-like-ness has its role, its script, and the-very-Devil-himself has its role, its script. We become who we practice being. Alcoholics become alcoholics by practicing until they are alcoholics. Firemen become firemen by practicing being firemen. We are here to practice being the right kind of people. For Christians, this means becoming who Christ was.

Now, there is also some hesitation, nay, some resistance in this group to saying that we are Christians. “Not me.” “Nope, not me either.” The wave goes around the room. What do you think it means to be a Christian? What is it about being a Christian that you want no part of? How could you have a problem with being who Jesus was? Here’s the scoop: The word “Christian” means “Little Christ.” We become “Little Christ’s” who grow up to be “Big Christ’s” by practicing, regularly, consistently, constantly, deliberately, intentionally the qualities and values of “The Christ.” “The Christ” becomes the model we emulate, as Jesus did, in seeing and treating all people as children of God. “The Christ in me greets, acknowledges, recognizes, honors, respects, appreciates, loves, cares for, etc. the Christ in you.” We are Christian to the extent that we emulate the model of The Christ in our lives, as Jesus did. We become who Jesus was, are Christians, to the extent that our daily practice is to become “Christ-like” in our living.

The word “Christ” means “the anointed one.” Anointed by God. For what purpose? To do what? To bring God to life in the lives of the people, to represent God on the earth, to be who God is. “The Father and I are one,” said Jesus (John 10:30). “He (that is, Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation,” says Paul (Colossians 1:15), and “In him (that is, Jesus), the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Colossians 1:19). But, don’t think this “image of God,” this “being who God is,” is unique to Jesus. It is who we are all created and called to be: “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:22-2:1). The Christ is the one who exemplifies “the fullness of God” in her, in his, way of life.

Ah, but, I can tell by the looks on your faces that I’m going to have to talk to you about God. I don’t know if you have noticed, but God has changed over the years. The way we once thought about God is no longer the way we think about God. We cannot think about God the way we once thought about God because we no longer live the way we once lived. The way we live structures the way we think. Our life experience shapes our reality. Our understanding of the way the world works flows from the way we experience the world working. We don’t pray to be saved from the measles, or from polio, for instance. We get a shot, or a sugar cube.

It used to be that we tried to get God on our side against all that we were up against by making sacrifices and offerings, undertaking pilgrimages, and otherwise proving our devotion and worthiness of divine intervention. God was big, mighty, all-mighty, and able to do anything if only God would. Our job was to get God to give us what we needed by doing whatever we could think of to earn God’s favor. Things began to change about the time of the Maccabean Revolt (167 BCE). As good people died and faithful martyrs were killed, the question of What Is God Thinking? became central in the lives of the faithful. Heaven and Hell were invented to justify the suffering of good at the hands of evil. Things would be put right in the world to come. The way we thought about God was changing.

The way we thought about God was significantly transformed in the 20th century. We experienced World War for the first, and second, time. The Holocaust. Two atomic bombs. The absurdity of the horror of life being made up to us in the afterlife was too much to be ignored. Thinking people began to think, “If this is the best God can do, God is incompetent. And, if this is not the best God can do, God is negligent, or, perhaps, malevolent.” The idea of a personal, loving, gracious and compassionate God “working his (sic) purpose out as year succeeds to year” became incomprehensible. And, we began to talk of “the death of God.”

But. The idea of The Ought To Be, of That Which Ought To be, would not—will not die. It is the idea of The Ought To Be which led to the idea of the death of God, which is really the death of the old way of thinking about God. There is a universal sense of the rightness of things, of the right order of things, of the right way of things, which is highlighted by Aldous Huxley in “The Perennial Philosophy.” Joseph Campbell says “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” That is one aspect of Ought-To-Be-Ness. There are others. Children should not die before their parents. War is stupid. Compassion is the path of life together. The list is long. We know what is right, what Ought To Be, without recourse to heavenly decrees, either celestial or divine.

It is our sense of the Ought-To-Be-Ness of things that connects us with what Joseph Campbell calls “the Mythic Vision.” In the grip of “the Mythic Vision,” we are pulled out of ourselves and live past all self-centered concerns in the service of something greater than ourselves. That something is beyond being named or conceptualized, but we have named it “God,” and we have conceptualized it as “Godliness.” The qualities of Godliness are what The Christ exists to make manifest in the world of normal, apparent reality. We bring God to life by taking up the practice of Godliness, by living in the service of the Ought-To-Be-Ness of things, by being the right kind of people, living the right kind of life, in the right kind of way. By being True Human Beings. By being who Jesus was.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

07/20/2008, Sermon/Dharma Talk

We can’t do what we want and be alive. Interesting conundrum, don’t you think? Doing what we want prevents us from being alive. Who would have ever guessed it? In our view, being alive is EXACTLY doing what we want, when we want, how we want, for as long as we want, and then doing something else we want. That is what life is, doing whatever we want. Freedom, and life, in our view, are about doing whatever we want. Nope. Sorry. Hate to be the one to break the news to you. Doing what we want keeps us from being alive.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have wants. We have to be concerned enough about our own personal benefit to not play in the street, or walk on the highway, or stand in ant beds. But, not so much concerned that we become the center and focus of our lives. We can’t be the center and focus of our lives and be alive. Maintaining the proper relationship with the center and focus of our lives precisely constitutes what we refer to as spirituality, spiritual development, the spiritual journey, path, and growth.

What is the legitimate center and focus of our lives? This is one of the essential questions. What is our work, our life? How does what we want interfere with our work, our life? With what we are about? The legitimate center and focus of our lives has to do with what is ours to bring forth for the boon of the world. How might we live so that others may benefit from our presence and live better because of us? How might I be of benefit to you is my question, not how you might be of benefit to me. How you might be of benefit to me is your question. Once we get the questions right, life proceeds merrily along its way.

There are other questions that must be asked regularly, and answered: "How alive can we be in the time left for living?" This is a particularly good one. The meaning of life is to be alive in the time and place, the here and now, of our living. What does it mean to be alive is the question. If we answer that one correctly, in each here and now of our living, we have it made. But, there are other questions that are also important.

"What needs to be done, here, now?" "What can we do to help things be more like they ought to be than they are?" "Who are we? What are we about" "What now, what's next, right here, right now?" We don't answer the questions so much as carry them with us, in our awareness. The awareness of the questions creates an openness in which our lives become the answer without our heads getting in the way. We don't think the answer, we live it. We think the questions and live the answers. Thinking the questions shapes our lives, living our lives deepens the questions, which further shape our lives. The stream and the stream bed are one, and create a life neither could have without the other.

When does our way get in the way? Can we lay it aside then, without emotional reaction? Can we have a way without having to have it? Recognizing when our way is getting in the way and setting it aside for the sake of what is called for in the situation-of-the-moment is a crucial step in our maturation/spiritual-development. The people who are always having to have their way or else are years away from being alive.

Here’s how it works. Being alive comes with a price tag attached. The price is living in the service of something bigger than we are. So that you won’t think I’m thinking of service in terms of working in soup kitchens and taking mission trips to Mexico, let’s call the “something bigger than we are” Our Heart’s True Desire. When Joseph Campbell talks about following our bliss, he’s talking about Our Heart’s True Desire, which can be blocked by doing what we want. The thing that keeps us from following our bliss is the thing we want, or think we have to have.

You would think they would be the same, I know. Not! Serving Our Heart’s True Desire nails what we want to the cross that we pick up and carry with us every day. We are never free from wanting what we want. We are never free from the nagging tug of Our Heart’s True Desire. We are never free from the burden of someone else’s idea of how we ought to live our lives. We live torn between what we have to do (what someone else wants us to do), and what we want to do, and what our heart wants us to do, which is the thing that needs doing that we can do in the here and now of our lives. That’s the human predicament, if there ever was one. The question is, of course, whose side are we on? Who do we listen to? How do we work it out?

Let me come at this another way. There is The Way Things Are, and there is The Way We Want Things To Be, and there is The Way Things Truly Ought To Be. Are you with me here? We live in the tangle of these conflicting interests and perspectives, and decide what good is the good we call good. Everyone always serves her, serves his, idea of the good. George Bush serves his idea of the good, Osama ben Laden serves his idea of the good. Everyone does. How good is the good we serve, is the question. Whose good is served by the good we serve, is the question.

The Way Things Truly Ought To Be is not necessarily, or even often, The Way We Want Things To Be. We want the lights and life of Gay Paree. We want the silver mirrors and Mardi Gras beads. The Yellow Hummers and the sail boats tied up at the dock. And, we don’t want anything interfering with what we want, like The Way Things Truly Ought To Be, for example. Like our Heart’s True Desire, for another example. So, it’s a problem.

Let me come at it another way. Sin. We have bought for much too long now, the Orthodox Christian view of Sin, call it, if you want, the Biblical view of Sin. It’s expressed very succinctly in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Sin is any want of conformity unto (don’t you love the language though), or any transgression of, a Law of God.” Sin, here, and in the church’s understanding, teaching, and proclamation of the Gospel, is what we do to displease God, oppose the Divine Will, and deserve the sentence of everlasting Hell. This isn’t nearly sophisticated enough. Take God completely out of the picture. Sin remains.

Sin has nothing to do with “a Law of God,” the Ten Commandments or The Law of Love, or the like. Here’s the deal about sin, and you can take this to the bank, any bank: Sin is thinking the wrong things are important. Sin is wanting what we want and not what we ought to want. Sin is wanting things to be the way we want things to be—the way we think things ought to be—and not the way things truly ought to be. Sin is shooting ourselves in the foot, and wanting what we have no business having, and bulldozing Our Way through the world. Sin is not listening, or listening, not hearing (Not seeing, not understanding). And, Sin isn’t something we can do something about.

Here’s a little aside for you where sin is concerned, only we don’t call it sin, we call it crazy. Here’s what makes for craziness, call it sinfulness: We strive to impose the way we want things to be on the way things are. That’s it. It’s a fruitcake world that lives out that scenario. Think we can stop wanting what we want and start wanting something else instead? Just because we ought to? We ought to floss. We ought to lose 30 pounds. We ought to exercise regularly. We ought to cut back on salt and sugar. Need I say more?

Know what sets Jesus apart? Two statements. They say the same thing. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and accomplish his work.” And, “Not my will, but Thine, be done!” Say that, and mean it, if you can. “Not what I want, but what I ought to want instead!” Say that, and mean it, if you can. Not meaning it is the essence of Sin. Try to make yourself mean it. Try to want what you ought to want. See the problem?

Now, the problem disappears in the grip of what Joseph Campbell calls “a mythic vision.” Jesus was gripped by a vision of mythic proportions. His sense of how things ought to be easily obliterated whatever he might have wanted for himself or those he loved. He didn’t have to try to talk himself out of what he wanted. He was captivated by His Heart’s True Desire. What he wanted never had a chance.

Sometimes, it happens that way. We are gripped by a compelling necessity and nothing matters but our affinity with, our service to, that thing. But, for the most part, we are much too level-headed, rational, smart, and concerned about what’s good for us to lose ourselves in the service of what is good. What we want gets in the way of what truly ought to be, of our Bliss, of our Heart’s True Desire, and so, the struggle. Where do you go for a mythic vision, these days?

Every day, there is The Way Things Are, and The Way We Want Things To Be, and The Way Things Truly Ought To Be. And, we have to work within that context to make things more like they ought to be than they are. It is not easy. There are no recipes. There is no figuring it out. There are no formulas, no “If then, therefore’s.” It’s a rank, oozing, mess out there, all around. How’re we going to fix it? We think we can fix the world, and we can’t fix ourselves. We can’t get out of our own way in order to do what needs to be done. What we want interferes with how things truly ought to be. And, everybody is in the same boat. We have to recognize that and talk it out.

We have to work it out. We have to know that we are in each other’s way, and in our own way, in the way of how things truly need to be. We have to assist each other along the way. Talk, talk, talk. You can call it confession if you want to, or repentance. It’s all a part of the conversation that is the heart of our life together, of our life together with every living thing on the planet, in the universe. No one knows what she, he, or anyone else should do for the good of the whole. We have to talk it out. And help each other do it. Constantly. Continually. World without end. Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

07/13/2008, Sermon/Dharma Talk

Our lives are unstable because our wants are out of alignment with our haves, because our expectations, hopes, and dreams are ensnarled in reality, and can’t free themselves in order to be realized. We don’t have a problem as long as things are going our way. We begin to get a little unsettled, trouble begins to brew, when we run into something that is Not What We Have In Mind.

Want to make the Grandies a little crazy? Give them something they hadn’t planned on. It could be good. They might eventually come to like it. First, there is hell to pay. Don’t think for a minute that they are different from us. If it isn’t our idea, forget it. We’ll buck and snort for days, no matter what it is.

We would all be happier with more cooperation. If our lives were more like we think they ought to be, and less like they are, we would be a lot more fun to be around. There is nothing wrong with us that getting what we want, when we want it, the way we want it, for as long as we want it, and then getting something else we want, when we want it, the way we want it, for as long as we want it, and then getting something else we want, etc. ad nauseam, wouldn’t cure.

It’s all about getting what we want. Religion? Christianity? Jesus? Getting what we want. We’ve created the whole scenario, the one that passes for Orthodox Christianity and all the rest, to make ourselves feel better about the way things are, and to give ourselves hope for the future. Heaven, you know, is where we will enjoy the wonders of everlasting bliss everlastingly. Heaven is all about making us happy. Finally. It’s a long wait, but baby, it’s worth it! We will have what we want, when we want it, the way we want it, for as long as we want it, and then we’ll have something else we want, etc. ad nauseam, forever. God is, after all, here to see to it that we get what we want.

What do you think prayer is for? And penitence? Our oblations and sacrifices? Our tithes and our votive offerings? What do you think the flap over propitiation is about? It’s all about getting God on our side! We jump through all these hoops to get God to give us what we want! We give to God so that God will give to us! That’s the structure of religion. The priests, who are in the know, tell the people what God wants, so that the people can give God what God wants so that God will reward the people with what they want. And, the priests get what they want for keeping the people so well informed. It’s a great system. You can’t beat it anywhere. Except, maybe, for politics and the World Bank. But everybody can’t play those games. Everyone can get in on religion. It’s the game for the people. And, it’s designed to give people what they want.

Riding the horse called I Want, I Want, And I Will Eventually Receive gets us through a lot of stormy nights. How else would we make it? Why else would we go on? What keeps us going but the thought of what’s in it for us, the thought of what we are going to get out of it in the end? “Tell us truly, O Lord,” say the disciples to the master. “Will it all work out in the end? Will it be as we want it to be at last?” “I tell you truly, my children,” says the master to the disciples. “It will be exactly as you wish in the end. And, if it isn’t, it won’t matter.”

Of course, there is another way. It is the way rarely taken. It is the way of life. It is the way of living this life, right here, right now, exactly as it is. Without having an eye on the future, or what’s in it for us, or what we stand to gain from the deal. It’s like this: Nothing is the heart of everything. Emptiness is the source of life. If you are going to believe in anything, believe in nothing. Not as the absence of everything, but as the origin, the foundation, the source and goal of everything! Empty yourself of all interest in personal gain, and do what truly needs to be done for no reason—whether you get anything out of it or not; whether there is anything in it for you or not; whether it benefits you in any way or not. Be good, for nothing! For no reason! Not because God will then bless you, but because the good you do is the blessing! The blessing is the blessing! What else is there to get?

It isn’t about getting, owning, acquiring, amassing. What’s to have are the things we create, generate, bring forth from our own hearts and souls and ways of being in the world. Peace and harmony don’t exist “out there” any more than meaning and purpose do. We don’t “find” peace and harmony, meaning and purpose. We create them. Produce them. Bring them forth. We bring it all forth, the good stuff and the bad. Why talk about the bad? We bring forth love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity… The whole values package. We ARE peace. WE are peace. Or not. It’s all up to us. We practice peace, and harmony, and meaning, and purpose, and love, and joy, and all the rest. We work at bringing them forth in our lives. Living well is our practice. Our work is producing the qualities that make life worth the effort.

How peacefully do we live? How graciously? How compassionately? How kindly? How patiently? How angrily? How insistently upon our way now? How begrudgingly? How resentfully? How fearfully? We produce the life that is our life by living with the attitude, and spirit, demeanor, and mindset, and outlook, and orientation that we live with. We influence the way life is lived around us by the way we live. How peacefully do we live? How graciously?

Our practice is to stand, or sit, before a mirror and make the person in the mirror the kind of person the world most needs. WE are our practice. Our practice is to mold ourselves into the kind of person the world most needs. What do you need to be loving, peaceful, joyful, kind? You don’t find those things on the shelves of Wal-Mart, in the aisles of Macy’s. You don’t order them from Land’s End or LLBean. They don’t exist “out there.” We bring them forth and offer them to the world. That is our work. What do we need to do it?

What do we need to come to terms with the way things are? What do we need to let them be that way because that’s the way they are? What do we need to make peace with the way things are? What do we need to grant the facts of life permission to be? How long will we live angry and depressed, woebegone and resentful that the world is not the way we want the world to be? How long will it take us to get over the shock that the world is not the way we want the world to be? What do we need to let the world be what it is because that’s what it is? There is no connection between what we do and what we get, between the way we live and what happens to us (Regardless of what “the Law of Attraction,” oh brother, don’t get me started, proclaims). What do we need to live in the world as it is as an expression of, as a source of, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, graciousness (and all the wonderful old values that make life worth the effort) anyway, nevertheless, even so?

Or, is it our plan to make the world pay? To make the world sorry it ever disappointed our expectations and destroyed our dreams? To not let the world forget how miserable it has made us all our lives long? And so, we’re going to wear our misery on our face, and exhibit our anger through our tone of voice and body language, and treat everyone we meet as though they are somehow part of the grand conspiracy to ruin our life? Is that what we have in mind? Or, are we just going to hole-up somewhere and drink our misery away? Sorry old world. We’ll show it. Or, we’ll get too drunk to care. Is that our plan?

There are lots of plans. Lots of schemes. Lots of strategies. We could make a lot of money and buy the kind of world we want. Tuck it away behind high walls, or hide it away in some mountain retreat (I hear the Rockies are good for that kind of thing). Live in Our Own World. For a while (I hear they get cancer even in their Rocky Mountain retreats). We can deny it, reject it, denounce it, declare war against it (The world, that is. The way the world works. The way things are. Life. The way life is). We could rail, rail against the madness. The injustice. The unfairness. It’s outlandish! It’s despicable! It’s detestable! The very idea! We could hate it.

We could ignore it. We could pretend it isn’t so. We could crumble beneath the weight of it. We could be the eternal victim. Moan, moan under the curse of life. There are all kinds of ways of dealing with it. We could bargain with it. We could mount an eternal pout. It’s all been done before. But, nobody is better off for it.

We are better off, and the world is a better place, when we serve the high values in spite of the way the world is. The people who served the high values in the death camps put life before death. That’s how it is done. We don’t wait for things to be just peachy, with it all going our way, before we bring forth peace into the world, and love, and joy, and grace, and kindness, and all the rest. We bring those babies forth wherever we are, in the midst of whatever is going on. We live as well as we can while we can where we are, because we are going to be dead soon enough, and the light, such as it is, is fading fast.

How do we decide how we are going to live? What governs our actions, our choices? What guides our living? Toward what, away from what, do we live? What does it mean to be alive? What do we need to live? After we have that, what do we do with the time, with the life, that is ours? To answer these questions, we have to have some sense, some awareness of who we are and what we are about. What are we bringing forth into the world? What is coming into existence through us? What is our calling, our life? How are we standing in the way of our own becoming? How are we, by our behavior and attitude, preventing the unfolding of good in the world?

The only thing standing between us and The Way of Life is US! All we have to do is GET OUT OF THE WAY! How we do that is our spiritual practice. Spiritual practices are all designed to get us out of the way of The Way. That’s all there is to it. It’s never been, or will be, more difficult than that.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

07/06/2008, Sermon/Dharma Talk

Every living thing has its own idea about how things ought to be. And, every living thing must make its own peace with how things are. Every living thing must come to terms with, and bear the pain of, being alive. For our part, we find ourselves living within the contradictory tension of these two statements: “You can’t keep ‘em on the farm once they’ve seen Gay Paree,” and “Yoda was a highly advanced spiritual being who lived in a hole in the ground.” Gay Paree is the test of our spiritual development. What does Gay Paree have to offer? What does Gay Paree have to offer Yoda? What makes life in Gay Paree more attractive than life in our hole in the ground?

Jesus said, “Not as the world gives do I give unto you. Peace I leave with you. Peace I give to you. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” Overcome the world? Overcome Gay Paree? What does it mean to “overcome the world”? What is to be overcome about the world?

In his hole, Yoda had what he needed to do the work that was his to do, to live the life that was his life to live. If his work called for it, he would have had a tractor, and a riding lawn mower, a bicycle rack and an SUV. The question is not “How much can we have?” but “What is our work?” “What is our life?” What do we need to do the work that is ours to do, to live the life that is ours to live? Once we know the work, the life, that is ours, we will know what we need to do it, to live it.

Our work has its own hole, its own way of being in the world. We must not rush to a hole, as though there is something sacred about a hole, as though any hole will do. Some holes are graves. Some holes are ruts. Some holes are places to hide, to avoid the work that is ours to do. The hole that is ours is a function of the work that is ours, an extension of the life that is ours. Our work will carry us there. Our life will lead us to our hole of choice. Our holes choose us, we don’t choose our holes.

I woke up a few weeks ago in my hole of choice, realized where I was and what I’d done to place myself there, shrugged at the inevitability of my life’s action, of “the fruit of my labors,” so to speak, and went back to sleep. That is as resounding an affirmation of the validity of one’s hole as I can imagine—realizing where you are and going back to sleep. I was lying in a hammock in my basement.

That is hardly the epitome of arrival, as the world counts these things. I don’t know of any of my high school, or college, or seminary classmates who would think I had become anything worth being, there in the hammock in the basement. Basements are okay for storing things, and hammocks are okay for appearing to have it made in on vacation, but they really have to be strung between palm trees on a beach to count. There is nothing of value about regular retreats to a hammock in a basement. You could look it up.

Now, this particular hammock and this particular basement are very much “of the world.” The hammock is made of parachute cloth, industrial strength nylon all the way from end to end. As beautiful a product of technology as there ever has been. And the basement is in a house that extracts a hefty mortgage payment every month. But, the world does not take them seriously. They don’t count for anything in the world. The world wouldn’t think twice about a hammock in a basement, and spending time there would not be found on any resume or belong in any obituary. You aren’t doing anything worth doing when you spend time in a hammock in a basement.

But, our work is our work, and our holes are our holes, and our lives aren’t about impressing anyone with the glamorous and enviable nature of our living. Our lives are about being as ordinary and invisible as a house sparrow and disappearing into who we are and what we do as yeast disappears into the dough. We don’t live to be seen, to be impressive, to be somebody. We live to do our work and step back, and let that be enough, whatever it is.

Everything comes down to, and revolves around, finding and doing the work that is ours to do, the work with our name on it—finding and living the life that is our life to live. Everything comes down to, and revolves around, living with our hearts in what we do. But, how can we think about having our heart in what we do when there is Gay Paree to consider? We can’t concentrate on our work, or on our lives, with our eyes on Gay Paree.

With Gay Paree in the picture, we ask, “What is our work? What is our life? How do we know? How can we be sure?” It isn’t so much that we don’t know as it is that we are afraid we do know, or, are afraid we might know, and are afraid that once we know what we know, it will interfere with our lives, with the life that we want to be our life. We are afraid that knowing what our work is, what our life is, will get in our way and keep us from having what we want, which is the life and lights of Gay Paree.

We know what is “us” and what is “not us,” what our work is and what our work isn’t, but we don’t want to admit that we know, because it isn’t what we want, because it isn’t the life and lights of Gay Paree. The truth about us is that we are not here to do what is ours to do. We are here to have what we want. Any way we can get it. And so, the attraction of Gay Paree.

We cannot hide from the attraction of Gay Paree. What are we going to do? Face the facts. Put the truth on the table. Sit with the contraries and contradictions and the oppositional nature of the “I” and the “Also I” until something shifts, until something moves, until something changes. How we want things to be is just another limitation we work with in doing what is ours to do. But, Gay Paree also comes with limitations.

In Gay Paree distractions abound. Diversions are everywhere. In Gay Paree it’s easy to think our heart is here, no, there, no, over there. And, we are not always in the mood to do what our heart desires. We can walk away from heart and live on the things that are pleasing to the eye. What do our eyes know? Or, our ears? Our eyes and ears are constantly being “caught” by pretty things passing by, pretending to be real, whispering sweet nothings in our ear and singing the Siren’s song, telling us they know the way to avoiding the pain of life in the heart of Gay Paree.

This is the best advice I'll ever give you. It's the best advice I know. Bear The Pain! The pain of being alive. The pain of being awake, aware. The pain of seeing into the heart of things, and knowing how things are, and understanding what the deal is, and living on life’s terms, under life’s conditions, anyway, nevertheless, even so.

Everything comes with pain attached. There is the pain of being in love. And, the pain of not being in love. The pain of doing what it takes to take photographs. And the pain of not doing what it takes to take photographs. There is the pain of life in Gay Paree, and the pain of life in a hole in the ground. There is a price to be paid to do what we do. So, we decide what we are going to do, and do it. And bear the pain!

Being alive is about living the life, and bearing the pain, that brings us to life. Doing the things that make us glad we are alive. Relishing the gladness of the thing. And being open to the wonder of it all. Knowing that it isn’t so much about having experiences, one after another, as it is about experiencing the experience we are having, being aware of what is being called for, and responding in appropriate ways. But, we can run from what is being called for, and be wrong about what constitutes really living and makes for the good life. We are never far from the allure of Gay Paree. How do we do our work with Gay Paree on our mind? Grappling with this question is part of the pain of being alive.

Knowing what is ours to do doesn’t keep us from wanting what we have no business having. What keeps us on track? The fellowship around the table. It all depends on what we bring to the table, and on what we find at the table, and on what we do away from the table. The table will be valuable to us only to the extent that we are living the life that is ours to live and bearing the pain of life away from the table.

At the table we talk about the difficulty of living between Gay Paree and our hole in the ground. At the table, we discuss the ease with which we fool ourselves, shoot ourselves in the foot, turn away from the life with out name on it in the name of being alive. At the table we say, again, even after a long time in the business of seeing, hearing, and understanding, that pretty things still catch our eye, our ear, and our heart goes, “Oh no not again!” At the table, we join one another in working with our tendency to want what we have no business having, not by defeating and destroying it, but by listening to it, by receiving it well, by saying, to one another, “Ah, yes, this too, this too. Come in, won’t you, pull up a chair, tell me your story and the pain you are experiencing with being alive, and I will tell you mine.”